Archive for John Marra
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As announced in an earlier post, John Marra, chief research officer at Savannah River National Lab spoke at the conference dinner at the annual meeting of the Glass and Optical Materials Division on May 17. The title of the talk was “Beyond Fukushima: Advanced materials to enable enhanced nuclear power systems.”
Marra set the stage by providing some context for the strategic role of nuclear power in the energy portfolio of the United States and worldwide. At present, about 40% of the energy consumed in the U.S. is in the form of electricity, and, nationally, about 20% of U.S. electricity is produced by nuclear power plants. Globally, there are 436 operational nuclear energy plants, with about 100 located in the U.S.
The worldwide demand for electric power is expected to double by 2050, with much of the increase coming from transitional economies like India and China and emerging economies like sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East.
In the U.S., one the Obama administration’s energy goals is to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. To reach that goal, Marra says nuclear power will have to continue be part of the nation’s energy portfolio because it is the only CO2-free power generation technology available that can also meet the demand. However, he noted traditional barriers to nuclear energy will have to be overcome, including the average $5 billion (or more) cost to build a standard size plant, more attention to siting considerations, other safety issues (real and perceived), proliferation risk and sustainable fuel cycles.
These barriers were addressed in a DOE report to Congress, “Nuclear Energy Research and Development Roadmap (PDF),” which identifies four key R&D objectives for the nuclear industry as it looks to expand the use of nuclear power in the nation’s energy portfolio. There are opportunities for the materials community to contribute to each of the Roadmap’s objectives (paraphrasing)
Look for more about ways the materials community can respond to Roadmap objectives in the August issue of the Bulletin, which will include more extensive comments from John Marra about the role specific materials will play
In the second part of his talk, Marra summarized the sequence of events that occurred on March 11 in Japan. When the magnitude 9 earthquake struck, all safety systems in the plant operated as designed and shut down the three reactors, rendering them safe and stable.
But, of course, about 80 minutes after the earthquake, the 14-meter (imagine a 40-foot wall) tsunami, more than twice the size the plant had been designed to withstand, slammed into the shore-side plant, knocking out the grid feed, the diesel generators that were running cooling water pumps, and significantly damaged the building. Even so, a back-up cooling system operated with waste heat and batteries pumped cooling water, but eventually until the batteries drained and crippled the back-up system.
With the loss of cooling, reactor cores were exposed and temperatures rose, eventually exceeding 900 oC, above which the Zircalloy fuel cladding begins to lose structural integrity. With failure of the cladding alloy, fission products were released. When the cladding temperature reached 1200 °C, the Zircalloy reacted with steam in the reactor, producing hydrogen gas and leading to the dramatic explosion (broadcast instantly around the world), and releasing the accumulated fission products into the atmosphere. Ultimately, the reactor cores were drowned with seawater, and cooling water was restored to the reactor cores (within seven hours for two of the reactors and in 27 hours for the third).
Marra observed that in the face of a catastrophic, natural event that exceeded all design contingencies (and perhaps even imagination) and caused multiple system failures, the Fukushima plant personnel very quickly returned the plant to a safe and stable condition.
According to Marra, the impact of the Fukushima incident will be “significant and worldwide,” for existing plants and new builds. He expects ceramic materials to adopted to “buy time” in emergency situations. For example, claddings of silicon carbide are able to withstand reactor temperatures well beyond what Zircalloy can tolerate. New glass-to-metal seal materials would need to be developed to seal endcaps to SiC claddings. There are alternative fuel configurations in development that would use silicon carbide to self-encapsulate spent fuel, thus preventing the accidental release of fission products. Materials like pyrolytic carbon or cabon-carbon composites may find applications in the so-called “small modular reactors” (more about those in a future post). Waste containment continues to be a pressing materials problem, and nuclear fuel is expected to be oxide-based for the foreseeable future.
Marra cautioned, however, that it can take the Nuclear Regulatory Commission up to 15 years qualify new materials for reactor components, thus the first new materials likely to be adopted are those about which much is already known like silicon carbide, silicon nitride, carbon-carbon composites, etc.
In light of timelines like these, and the added scrutiny and political pressure that the Fukushima incident will inevitably create, the Obama administration’s goal of 80% CO2 reduction by 2050 makes the 39-year interval until then look very, very tight.
The ACerS Glass and Optical Materials Division is holding its annual meeting May 15-19 in Savannah, Ga., and I just learned that nuclear energy materials expert John Marra has agreed to do a special and timely presentation about Japan’s nuclear power accident at the conference dinner May 17. Marra, the chief research officer of the Savannah River National Lab, has tentatively titled his talk, “Beyond Fukushima: Advanced materials to enable enhanced nuclear power systems.”
I am really looking forward to this because, as far as I know, it will be the first semi-public presentation by a federal lab official in which there is an attempt to sum-up some of the engineering lessons from the Fukushima/TEPCO situation.
The context of this, of course, is that rising fuel prices and increased concerns about greenhouse gas emissions had many scientists and policy makers looking toward nuclear power (and new generations of nuclear reactors) as a way to offset fossil fuels. In reaction to the Fukushima situation, some nations and some members of the science and technology community now want to take a second look at future plans for growing nuclear power systems.
In an abstract on his presentation, Marra says:
On March 11, 2011 an earthquake centered near Japan and the resultant tsunami caused significant damage to several reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant causing many to question the long-term future of nuclear power. As Japan and the international community begin to look at the lessons-learned from the Fukushima accident, advanced materials that eliminate or reduce the consequences of severe accidents will find increased application in advanced nuclear power systems.
Ceramic and glass materials, which have long played a very important role in the commercial nuclear industry, offer some significant advantages under accident conditions. This presentation will review the sequence of events that led to the Fukushima Daiichi accident and discuss the critical role that ceramic and glass materials play throughout the nuclear fuel cycle, and the critical material advancements required to enable the “nuclear renaissance” in light of the recent events.
The conference dinner runs 7-10 p.m. on May 17, and I expect Marra will begin his talk around 8:30 p.m.
I plan on running an interview with Marra, a past president of ACerS, for the August issue of the Bulletin, but I highly recommend that anyone interested in advanced glass science and technology (including optical materials, optical devices, coatings, sensors, solar energy materials, glass–ceramics, and structures and properties) considere coming to the GOMD meeting.
Alfred University has selected nuclear power expert and ACerS leader John Marra give the Inamori School of Engineering’s 2010 John F. McMahon annual lecture. Marra will speak at 11:20 a.m., Nov. 4 in Holmes Auditorium, Harder Hall, on AU’s campus on the topic of “Advanced Ceramic Materials for Next-Generation Nuclear Applications.”
Marra, an ACerS Fellow and former president, is the associate laboratory director for strategic initiative development at Savannah River National Laboratory.
In the abstract for his lecture, Marra says:
“The nuclear industry is in the eye of a ‘perfect storm’,” Marra explains in the abstract of his talk. “Fuel oil and natural gas prices near record highs; worldwide energy demands increasing at an alarming rate; and increased concerns about greenhouse gas emissions have caused many to look negatively at long-term use of fossil fuels. This convergence of factors has led to a growing interest in revitalization of the nuclear power industry within the United States and across the globe.
“Ceramic materials have long play a very important part in the commercial nuclear industry with applications throughout the entire fuel cycle, from fuel fabrication to waste stabilization. As the international community begins to look at the next-generation nuclear technologies and advanced fuel cycles that minimize waste and increase proliferation resistance, ceramic materials will play an even larger role.”
Marra says his presentation at the McMahon Lecture will focus on the critical role ceramic materials play throughout the nuclear fuel cycle, and what critical advancements in materials will be needed.
We previously featured Marra in a video shot earlier this year, “A new paradigm for nuclear waste management” and as part of a “New energy opportunities for materials science and engineering” panel at MS&T’09.
The Energy Innovation track at the Ceramic Leadership Summit June 21-22 in Baltimore, Md., will highlight advances and challenges facing the the future of energy creation, harvesting and storage. Nuclear energy, solid-oxide fuel cells and sodium metal halide batteries are just a sample of the topics to be covered by industry leaders.
Here are the abstracts for the planned presentations in this track -
Enabling a nuclear renaissance: ‘Better, faster, cheaper’ using advanced ceramics (John Marra, associate lab director, Savannah River National Lab)
The nuclear industry is at the eye of a perfect storm with fuel oil and natural gas prices near record highs, worldwide energy demands increasing at an alarming rate, and increased concerns about greenhouse gas emissions that have caused many to look negatively at long-term use of fossil fuels. This convergence of factors has led to a growing interest in revitalization of the nuclear power industry within the United States and across the globe. This session will discuss the critical role that ceramic materials play throughout the entire fuel cycle and the critical role of materials advancements in the nuclear renaissance.
Next steps for fuel cells (Two presentations: Robert Rose, Robert Rose, senior advisor, US Fuel Cell Council; Claus Peter Kluge, R&S manager, CeramTec AG)
(Rose) Fuel cells are entering early markets in consumer products, generators of electricity; combined heat and power systems, industrial vehicles, and much more. Solid oxide systems are being developed for many of these markets, and the DOE envisions SOFC systems as simplifying and reducing the cost of carbon sequestration from coal. Rose will discuss the fuel cell vision, and the steps needed to make the vision a reality.
(Kluge) There was and is a fascination for converting energy only in two main portions: heat and electricity. There is no need for moving parts like pistons which will generate additional parasitic losses like friction and noise. Where we come from defines the state-of-the-art. Future technological, social and environmental aspects will define the way to go. The goal is to decrease costs and complexity in the customers’ cognition and to morph the specialty into a high volume standard product. The challenges are material development and processing to get well-defined, efficient and reliable products.
An industry perspective: Development and application of ceramic materials for efficient and clean power generation (William Treadway, group leader for ceramics and deputy department leader for the Physical Sciences Department, United Technologies Research Center; Ellen Sun, principal research scientist, UTRC)
UTRC is the central research organization for United Technologies Corporation - a world leader in the development and integration of energy efficient and clean power generation systems. The presentation will share UTRC’s experience in materials development, component testing, and system or sub-system demonstration and discuss material needs for near-term efficient and low emission power systems.
Materials for advanced sodium metal halide batteries (Mohamed Rahmane, senior engineer/project leader, GE Global Research)
The world needs large-scale energy storage devices and systems that are safe, reliable and economical. There are currently very few economically viable and technically feasible storage solutions that are dispatchable and meet the stringent cost and reliability demands. High-energy-density sodium metal halide battery technology is emerging as one of the key solutions, and GE is addressing the technology challenges and taking it to the manufacturing and commercial stages. This presentation will discuss the critical role that materials, particularly ceramics, play in the performance and life of sodium metal halide batteries.
The Ceramic Leadership Summit offers cutting edge industry discussion by the world’s scientific leaders. Become a part of the future of ceramics. Register now.
John Marra spoke at the Materials Challenges in Energy conference in February 2010 on new and emerging approaches to the thorny issue of managing nuclear wastes, and the fundamental changes that need to be made. Concerns about nuclear wastes have plagued nuclear power operators for decades and the Obama administration’s call for building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants and commitments for over $8 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors in the United States gives these concerns new meaning.
Although Marra takes some time to explain the political and technical context of a “nuclear renaissance,” his main points have to do with a roadmap for applying new techniques for converting spent fuel into safer and reusable assets, and moving to a fuel-recycle model rather than the existing “once-through” model. He also discusses the coming Gen III and IV reactors, and opportunities for the most significant R&D gains.
Marra is an associate laboratory director at the Savannah River National Lab where he works on Strategic Initiative Development. He has worked for over two decades in the management and treatment of high-level radioactive waste, development and application of advanced materials and advanced chemical process applications. He has coauthored numerous publications on the application of ceramic materials in the nuclear industry. Marra is also a past-president of ACerS, an Fellow of the Society and a past chair and past trustee/director of the organization’s Nuclear & Environmental Technology Division.